Death might not be something you wish to dwell on, but the fact is, there’s only one exit from this mortal coil, no matter who you are on the planet.
And yet we often only speak of the subject in hushed tones.
Maybe it’s the dread of how you’ll die, or of what will happen next, or of missing out, or the distress of losing those you love. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that for one of life’s great certainties, the thought of death is often besieged by uncertainty and fear.
But a new book, Planet Grief: Redefining Grief for the Real World, sets out to address our worries.
Written by Dipti Tait, 48, who’s based in Cotswolds, Planet Grief is her second book on the subject.
She said: “The first one, Good Grief, was exploring death itself because of the experience of losing both my parents to cancer. My dad died when I was 23, and my mum when I was 37.
“I was an only child, and felt incredibly lost, but then I realised I’m still here, I’ve survived this and that’s an important lesson, how to make your life the way you want it.
“I don’t have a fear of dying now, and I realised this is something we need to talk and communicate about more to make it less scary, because we’re all experiencing some form of death and loss every day, especially with the pandemic, which was in a sense a death of agency, freedom, control, the way we knew life – everything changed.
“For some people, it was terrible, while others managed to ‘pivot’, which demonstrates how perspective on something is so important.”
Registered hypnotherapist, Tait, believes fear of death is essentially the discomfort of knowing that one day we won’t exist.
She added: “What is beyond death, nobody knows, and that sense of not knowing what’s going to happen to you or to your family, or friends, can be a big thing to handle.
“Depending on your beliefs, it can subconsciously be a fear of suffering forever, of retribution, or non-existence, or thinking you’ll get to the end of your life and look back and realise you can’t do anything differently and an imposing sense of regret.
“But a fear of death translates as a fear of life because in the end, people end up limiting themselves so much they can’t experience life properly.”
Tait begins Planet Grief with a quote from Naval Ravikant: ‘I’m not afraid of death anymore and I think a lot of the struggle we have in life comes from a deep, deep fear of death’.
“The book’s about unpacking this fear and looking at how we can move through it and beyond it,” says Tait, and as part of the process, she explores what fear is, and how powerful it can be.
“Fear’s there to keep us safe essentially, and to turn our fight, flight, freeze on in the brain. But if we allow it to overprotect us and then it takes over, we can lose our rational thinking and begin to over-react to people and experiences, so everything can become a threat.
“To avoid that discomfort, we start to do other things to distract ourselves and make ourselves feel comfortable – eating, drinking, shopping too much, and other addictions, so the knock-on effect can be vast,” says Tait.
“But we need to realise a little bit of discomfort isn’t bad, and that we can navigate through it safely and appropriately, so it’s not about pushing fear away, or pretending it’s not there. It’s about embracing it.”
Tait observes it’s not unusual for people to share their hopes for the ‘perfect’ death.
She added: “People will go, ‘I hope I die in my sleep and won’t know anything about it’ but that translates to ‘What’s going to happen to me? And I don’t trust that it will happen well’.
“We’re saying that from a fear or anxiety-based reality that stems from the primitive part of our brain that’s trying to keep us safe, but is designed to give us the worst-case scenario, and the fear leads to negative forecasting.
“What we need to do is come back into the moment – our fear of death, or non-existence, isn’t our current reality.
“If it was our current reality, we wouldn’t be fearful of it, we’d just be dealing with it. That’s the thing with fear and anxiety. We’re usually feeling it outside of the present moment because we’re usually thinking about either the past, or the potential future,” she explains.
“As humans we’re quite good at getting on with it and finding solutions to problems, and sorting things out when we’re in the moment, so it’s about mindful practices, anything that brings you back to that. It’s then we can think rationally, we can plan and prepare, and communicate properly.”
Given how we think affects how we feel, how we feel influences our behaviour and how we behave affects our experiences of life, and our reality, our perspective on a situation can’t be underestimated, including our thoughts on death.
It’s why Tait uses hypnotherapy to help ease people’s fears.
“It’s about changing the negative spiral into a positive one, so we can change our reality into a positive one,” she says.
“For instance, people often talk about feeling alone, or lost or in the dark, so through hypnotherapy, we can give them a more positive metaphor – what if you could have a torch and find your way, or build a bridge over a chasm. It’s about using the imagination and changing the angle.
“But the more we talk about death, and communicate our feelings about it, the better. At the end of the day, all human beings just want to feel safe and reassured and education, conversation and knowledge is a way of providing that.”
Planet Grief: Redefining Grief for the Real World by Dipti Tait is out October 21 with Flint, an imprint of The History Press, £18.99.